Saturday, 20 March 2010

Theatre: 'Closer' at the Barnfield Theatre Exeter 9th - 20th March 2010 (encore)

My opinions on cinema are of no consequence to international film makers. If I write a feature on an exhibition at the Tate it is unlikely to come to the attention of Nick Serota. But write a review of an Exeter theatre production and it is likely to be read - and sometimes responded to - by those involved. Local papers usually give a show publicity, but rarely publish a review, and if they do it is most often perfunctory. The theatre press is London based and don't regularly give space to small-scale provincial productions, whatever their merit. So I'm conscious that what I say on The Blah Blah Blah Show - radio or blog - has a dual function: to give critical feedback while promoting and encouraging local artists and their work, especially at a time when funding is harder to come by and venues are closing.

When I reviewed 'Closer' on its opening night at the Barnfield, it was evident that the Random Acts production had potential, but that potential had yet to be fully realised. A small audience generated little atmosphere. Technical problems meant a late start . Not ideal circumstances for a debut. So when the company contacted me and offered me a free ticket to a show later in the run, I took them up on it. Seeing a film twice gives fresh perspective, but it is the same film. Giving a book a second read is like returning to an old friend: it hasn't changed, you have. But a play can shift gears night on night and I was curious to see how the production had evolved three-quarters way into its run.

It was worthwhile doing so. A full-house created a buzz that wasn't there 10 days earlier and laughter is infectious. There was more connection, more tension and more emotion in the performances of the cast. A changed vantage point meant a different view, one of the pleasures of theatre in the round in a studio space. It was good to see that the Director Adam Brummitt was still intently involved in proceedings, making notes for further fine-tuning. The crew were also clearly still focused on the production, not just their tasks, still responding to the humour, revelling in its darkness.

All the individual performances had developed, in particular those of Vicki-Jo Eva, who seemed to have inhabited Anna when previously she was still seeking her out, and Tim Metcalf-Wood, whose portrayal had gained both depth and nuance. Emma Vickery's Alice is the role that holds the drama together, and she has the ability to switch from flirtatious to intense while maintaining the mystery the part demands. If Sebastian Pope's sometimes sandwiches cheese and ham, he surprised on occasions with moments that showed real feeling, and the chemistry between the cast was much stronger, enough to believe that these were relationships being played out, not just played.

My appreciation of Patrick Marber's play is undiminished and, on this occasion, Random Acts did it justice. I wouldn't be surprised if the performance reaches an even higher pitch in tonight's finale. If they are reading, we'd be happy to have them on our radio show in advance of a future production.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Damian,

    Pardon the delay of this reply; tempting slight presumption on the part of those for whom I cannot directly speak, we would be delighted to appear on your show (though by 'we' it may well amount more to me).

    No matter the review (for which I certainly thank you), I was pleased more at your having opportunity to see the show as it was meant to have been.

    Art review is supremely lacking in Exeter for as burgeoning as the theatre scene seems poised to become and for that deficit your coverage is invaluable, but for my part that is more for those intending to attend performances as for those involved (a sentiment I’ve not entirely instilled in my at times perpetually insecure – and infinitely capable – performers).

    In any event, I again thank you for your second attendance of the show and am eager to greet you again when behind your mic.

    Warm Regards,

    Adam Brummitt
    Artistic Director
    Random Acts Theatre
    ‘Defy Explanation’